About Sprint Racing Sled Dogs

/About Sprint Racing Sled Dogs
About Sprint Racing Sled Dogs 2017-05-27T07:02:18+00:00

Article Updated: June 16, 2016

From Wikipedia – Eurohound

Grace

Grace

History
According to Egil Ellis, a top sled dog racer, various types of pointers have been popular with Swedish sled dog racers for at least the last 50 years, and Alaskan Huskies were imported to Sweden in the 1980’s; crossbreeding pointers and Huskies began “to come up with something new, something that the mushers did not have in Alaska”. “A Eurohound is a cross between an Alaskan Husky and German Shorthaired Pointer… This cross first successfully entered the competitive sled dog racing world in Scandinavia.” The Eurohound is not a purebred breed of dog but instead is continually crossbred from purebreds and mixes in order to produce dogs for specific running conditions.

Crossbreeding
Rather than inbreeding similar looking dogs in order to create a new breed with a consistent appearance, Eurohound racers crossbreed for specific working traits and health. Crossbreeding includes breeding between two established breeds, with two tightly bred but unrelated gene pools, and breeding the first generation cross back to one of the purebred breeds. Crossbreeding is also done for the purpose of heterosis (hybrid vigor). The dogs most often used for Eurodog crosses are purebred Pointers (German Shorthaired Pointers and English Pointers),Vorester Pointer and Alaskan Huskies (Gareth Wright lines primarily) from tightly bred sprint dog lines used for racing.

A first generation Eurohound cross (fifty percent Pointer, fifty percent Husky) have short coats, suitable for sprint races, which don’t involve resting or sleeping on the trail. When the first generation cross is crossed again with the Alaskan Husky, the resulting generation can have thicker coats, suitable for longer distance teams. Most distance mushers prefer the pointer genetics to only be 1/8 in a dog for maximum performance . This then reduces the Eurohound influence, and dogs should be termed Alaskan Huskies or Hound crosses.

rex spces rexspecs sled dogs dogsledding duluth minnesota two harbors mn dogpower

Ollie and Valor with their Rex Specs

The term “Eurohound” was coined by Ivana Nolke, to distinguish the European racing dogs being imported into Alaska. Vorester ex greyhound crosses are coined “Greysters” and popular for dryland racing limited class snow racing.

See our article about characteristics of a hound cross sled dog and false pregnancy.

Why the name Eurohound, and not Europointer? – Tone Coughlin to Ivana Nolke

In Europe there is really no distinction between a hound (a hunting dog in general) and a pointer. In the UK and in Ireland there may be since they are English speaking countries. All hunting dogs (including pointers) are called HOUNDS – in different variations depending on the country. And there is only one POINTER in Europe, the English Pointer. GSP is not called a pointer in most of the European countries. For example the GSP is called Duitse staande hond in Dutch (hond = hound). All Eurohounds when they first came to Alaska (which was the first US state they were introduced to) were called HOUNDS in general. Some Eurohounds still have sight hounds in their pedigree.

VALOR

VALOR – Greyhound/GSP/ESP/Alaskan Husky

Appearance and Breeds
As the Eurohound is a carefully bred performance dog type rather than a kennel club registered purebred breed, its appearance will vary. Characteristics of Pointers, Huskies, and any other breeds used in breeding may show up in the dogs. Breeders may target a specific size or coat length for the type of racing they do. “Our pointers and most of our crossbreeds have a weight of 18-24 kilos”(Egil Ellis). Fairly common features of fifty percent crosses are half-dropped ears, black with white blazing as shown in the photo, or solid with patches of spots. Some completely spotted dogs appear as well. Once the percentage of pointer drops, the dogs start to look more like Alaskan Huskies.

The Alaskan husky sprint dog has been tightly bred for performance since sled dog racing began in Alaska. The German Shorthaired Pointer and English Pointer gene pool is restricted by the fact that they are registered breeds, but they too were bred for performance; the Scandinavian pointers from which the first Eurohounds came had been used historically for sled dog racing and hunting.

Terminology
Although more accurately and traditionally called “crossbred”, crossbred dogs are sometimes referred to more fashionably as “hybrid”, for unknown reasons. In biology, a hybrid animal is one with parentage of two separate species, differentiating it from crossbred animals, which have parentage of the same species. Hybrids are usually, but not always, sterile. All dogs, including crossbreeds, are of the species Canis lupus familiaris. Crossbred dogs are not a hybridization with another species.

Race Categories in Sprint – Definitions from the IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports)

Dryland (fall and/or spring) – Larger events may have separate women’s, men’s, veteran, and junior classes.

  • Canicross – running with one dog in harness, distances 1.5 to 6 miles
  • Scooter – a two wheeled kick bike with one to two dogs in harness, distances 1.5 to 4 miles
  • Bikejoring – a cyclocross or mountain bike with one to two dogs in harness, distances 1.5 to 6 miles
  • Cart – a three or four wheeled cart with four to eight dogs in harness, distances 2 to 6 miles
  • Relay – a team combination of canicross, scooter, and bikejoring with an exchange area

Snow – Larger events may have separate women’s, men’s, veteran, and junior classes.

  • Skijoring – cross country skiing with one or two dogs, distances 3 to 6 miles
  • Pulka – cross country skiing behind a dog attached to a pulk, distances 3 to 6 miles
  • 4 Dog Sled – one driver with a team of 4 dogs, distances 4 to 8 miles
  • 6 Dog Sled – one driver with a team of 6 dogs, distances 6 to 12 miles
  • 8 Dog Sled – one driver with a team of  8 dogs, distances 8 to 16 miles
  • Unlimited Sled – one drive with a team of 7 to unlimited dogs, distances of 12.5 to 35 miles

From isdra.org

Fast, exciting, well trained sled dog teams are the result of careful behind the scenes planning and hard work. Successful mushers are knowledgeable in such diverse areas as kennel management, canine behavior, nutrition, veterinary care, psychology, physical conditioning, housing and transportation. Wise mushers soon learn that success or failure in any of these areas affects performance dramatically. Considering this fact it is obvious that the welfare of the dogs is of paramount importance.

Team and driver develop a close, trusting relationship because of the amount of time they spend together. To betray that trust by not meeting all of the dog’s needs runs counter to the goal of having a happy, healthy, highly motivated team. What you see at a race is the result of long hours of work and planning to ensure that the team is prepared to test its abilities against the trail and the competition.

What Makes Sled Dogs Run?
Sled dogs run because they love to run, they are born and raised to it. How they run is a product of how they are trained. If they are well trained they will run in perfect harmony. If they don’t it is the failure of the musher, not the dogs. One of the great mushers of all time summed it all up when he said “the dogs never make a mistake”.

Sled dogs, like all athletes, spend more time training than competing. By the time you see a dog running a race, the dog will have logged hundreds or more miles of training.

Training
Training begins when sled dogs are puppies. Puppy training must be fun. The puppy must be given tasks he/she can accomplish with ease. The first training occurs at birth when the puppies are handled and socialized so they become comfortable with their human companions. When the puppies are old enough to mix with other dogs, they learn to be comfortable with other dogs and to come when they are called.

Puppies do not perform like adults, but they learn to associate the harness and the team with fun.

Mushers will often put a puppy in a harness to pull a small object. At six or more months, the puppy joins a small team of older dogs. It is critical that this first effort at running be a positive experience. The musher’s goal is to let the dog enjoy its instinctive behavior in a safe environment.

eurohound sled dogs breeding breeder

Free running pups in the forest.

Training begins in earnest when the dogs are yearlings. Most mushers start training in the fall as soon as it is cool enough for the dogs to run comfortably. Fall training is usually cart or 4 wheeler training. The dogs run on dirt or sand trails to avoid injuries.

The goals of fall training are several. Dogs must build up their aerobic condition and muscle strength and learn to run as a team. Young dogs learn how to ignore distractions, respond to commands, and handle different trail conditions.

Fall training begins with short, brief runs. As the dogs build strength and stamina they can run farther. The dogs rest between and within workouts to ensure fitness.

As the training progresses and the months turn cooler, the dog become stronger, better conditioned and able to run further and faster. The experienced driver shuffles dogs around in different positions on the team seeking to find the position that best matches the dog’s unique abilities. Sometimes dogs are paired with partners whom they will run beside for their entire careers, bonding to that dog as much as to the driver.

The driver studies his team, learning each dogs individual traits and habits. Most importantly, the driver builds each dog’s confidence in their athletic ability until the whole team of canine competitors is convinced there is not another dog team in the world that can run as fast or as far as they can!

That confidence and excitement explodes when the dogs finally get to run in the snow. A light sprint sled (about 25 pounds) almost flies over the snow. The dogs will run faster and further. The snow cushions their feet allowing for longer runs and the colder temperatures are more comfortable for athletes who exercise in fur coats. In the end, the training pays off when a strong and healthy team of dogs blast out of the starting chute, and win, lose or draw, runs the course with ultimate canine grace, strength and beauty!

Feeding Sprint Sled Dogs

Read our blog post about feeding a “raw” diet.

Just like a human athlete, a sled dog’s diet affects the dog’s ability to compete. A sled dog at rest in the summer needs about 800 calories per day. In the middle of a cold winter long distance race that same dog may need up to 10,000 calories per day (10,000 is not a typo!). The quest to provide sled dogs with enough calories and the right type of calories has resulted in tremendous growth in our knowledge about the canine diet, and better food for both the racing dog and house pets.

A canine athlete does not digest and use food in the same way as humans. The high carbohydrate diet that helps a human runner perform at his or her peak will not have the same effect on a sled dog. Studies by veterinarians and dog food manufacturers have found that a high carbohydrate diet actually lowers canine performance.

Fats and protein are the most important sources of energy for a sled dog. The ratio of fat and protein varies depending on the distance to be run and the time spent running, however, certain minimum requirements have been determined. A typical diet consists of 32% protein, 15% carbohydrates and 53% fat.

Fats provide the dog with quick energy. They are highly digestible and very dense in calories. Protein helps a dog handle the physical demands of racing and is required in greater amounts as physical activity increases.

Dog mushers rarely rely on dry dog kibble alone to supply their dogs nutritional needs. A top quality dry dog food is critical to the diet but it is usually supplemented by ground chicken, fish, liver or other meat products.

Finally, it is not enough to provide quality food unless the dogs are supplied with clean water. Water is the most important part of a dog’s diet. Contrary to popular myths, sled dogs do not get their water supply by eating snow. Snow requires tremendous energy to melt as it is consumed and it offers little water for much effort. By contrast, warm water after a night in the cold can be to the sled dog a lot like a hot chocolate drink is to a human. On the other hand, it is not unusual to see a sled dog grab a bite of snow, just like you enjoy an ice cream cone now and then!

Gee, that dog looks thin?
A frequently heard remark at races is that the dogs seem thin. Indeed, compared to a house dog who may get out for a walk or short run a couple times a week, sled dogs are thin. Although sled dogs consume more calories than an average human, they also burn those calories working out in training. Like human runners, the intake of calories and exercise result in a slim, athletic physique. Mushers monitor the weight of their dogs, feeding them accordingly. If the dogs gain too much weight, they risk overheating, disease and injury. If they are too thin they lose stamina. Mushers balance these considerations and maintain their dogs at a healthy weight for each particular dog.

How Do You Get To The Races?

Our Custom Dog Trailer

Our Custom Dog Trailer

Very few mushers are fortunate enough to live at race sites, so they are faced with a complex problem transporting three, four, six, eight or more dogs, sleds and lots of miscellaneous equipment. In the early days of racing, mushers would ‘mush” their teams to the race. Fortunately for everyone, highways and pickup trucks have made getting to the race much easier for musher and dogs.

If you glance around a race site you’ll see that sled dog trucks are as varied as their owners but they have many common features. Dog trucks are equipped with separate compartments built on the truck itself or on a trailer. The compartments or “dog boxes” generally house one or two dogs. The boxes are kept relatively small so the dog’s body heat will keep the box and the dog warm, but yet large enough that the dog can travel in comfort.

Sled dog boxes are well ventilated so the dogs get fresh air and stay dry. The humidity from the dog’s breath would make the box a damp and then cold place if it is not allowed to escape through vents or the door. Most boxes have a large opening covered with some form of metal grating. When the temperatures are colder than what the dog normally experiences a portion of the metal grating or other opening may be partially covered to conserve heat, yet still allow humidity to escape.

Mushers put a variety of materials in the boxes for bedding. The most common bedding is fresh straw. Straw provides padding and insulation. It must be changed regularly so it does not become wet, molded or soiled.

The dog boxes quickly become a sort of mobile home for the dogs providing a safe haven and a familiar environment no matter where the team travels. The dog truck is equipped to haul everything from sleds to dog food and is rigged with a number of special devices to make travel easier. Lights on the side of the boxes and the rear make it easier to feed at night. Eye bolts around the bottom of the truck give the musher a place to attach short leashes, called ‘drop chains’, to the truck so that the dogs can get out, stretch and relieve themselves while remaining securely attached to the truck and out of harms way.

Sled Dogs in the Media

Everyone has a different perspective on what sled dogs do, how they are trained and cared for, and how much they really love to run. Here is a great article published in the Huffington Post about what we (Endurance Kennels LLC) do!

Enjoy some videos about our dogs.